Medicaid Expansion Bill Clears First Hurdle

Governor Walker’s Medicaid Expansion bill has passed it’s first committee in the House. HB 148 was approved by the House Health and Social Services Committee Tuesday night with a 6 to 1 vote.

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The bill would allow the state to accept at least 145 million dollars in federal funds to provide health insurance to low income, childless adults. The federal government is funding 100% of expansion until the end of 2016, then the match gradually decreases to 90% in 2020.

Four Republican lawmakers voted for it, but not Liz Vazquez. The Anchorage Republican says the committee didn’t hear enough expert testimony on how Medicaid expansion would impact the state budget:

“Yes we have public comments but we have not vetted these issues sufficiently and shame on us for passing a piece of legislation that is basically an octopus.”

Vazquez calls the bill “irresponsible.”

Fairbanks Democrat Adam Wool says nearly 30 states have already expanded Medicaid and seen an economic boost. He says beyond the economic argument, it’s important to give Alaskans who can’t afford insurance peace of mind:

“Someone that came in on Saturday brought up something I hadn’t heard yet and it was empowerment. He mentioned the empowerment you get when you have the security of getting insurance and I can speak to that because I went for many years without insurance.”

Wool says even when he was insured, his deductible was so high, he avoided going to the Doctor. He says his family is now covered under an Affordable Care Act plan.

The bill next goes to the House Finance Committee. The Senate is scheduled to have its first hearing on its version of the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill Wednesday afternoon.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.